NEW YORK PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL PITCH COUNT RULES TO GO INTO EFFECT THIS SEASON
By Steve Kallas
(The following article discusses the new pitch count rules for New York State only. For a list of the rules in other states, please see J.J. Cooper’s article at baseballamerica.com entitled, “High School Pitch Count Rules By State.”)
In July 2016, the National Federation of State High School Associations (“NFHS”) announced that, beginning with the 2017 spring baseball season, each state member would have to institute a pitch count rule for high school baseball. Now, virtually every state has their own rules and, while well-intentioned, there are already issues depending upon the state. New York State, in particular, has made a terrible mistake by changing the common definition of days of rest.
NEW YORK STATE PITCHING RULES FOR THE 2017 SEASON
Following the directive of the NFHS, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (“NYSPHSAA”) Executive Committee held meetings on October 19, 2016 and January 27, 2017. At these meetings, the new pitch count rules were discussed, first as a “Discussion/Information Item” (at the October meeting) and then as an “Action Item” in January. At the January meeting, the rules discussed below were approved for implementation for the 2017 spring season.
It should be noted here that the NYSPHSAA does not govern public schools in New York City. Those public schools are governed by the Public Schools Athletic League (“PSAL”). The PSAL has had pitch count rules in effect since 2011. In addition, the Catholic High School Athletic Association (“CHSAA”) recently piggy-backed on the NYSPHSAA rules with one major improvement.
THE ACTUAL RULES
We will focus on the new high school varsity rules.
Here are the pitch counts set forth for varsity play this year included with what New York State is calling “nights of rest.” Unfortunately, right away, the theory of nights of rest (as opposed to days of rest) is a dangerous one for young pitchers and New York seems to be the only state to use this odd distinction.
If a varsity pitcher throws 1-30 pitches, he needs one night of rest; 31-65 pitches, two nights of rest; 66-95 pitches, three nights of rest; and 96-105 pitches, four nights of rest.
Here’s the dangerous part. Any major league baseball fan knows and understands that a pitcher today pitches on four days of rest; that is, if he pitches on Monday, he rests on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and is ready to take his regular turn pitching on Saturday. But in New York, for high school kids who throw between 96 and 105 pitches in a game, the rules talk about nights of rest and, believe it or not, when a high school kid (of any age) pitches on Monday afternoon, his first “night” of rest is MONDAY NIGHT (not Tuesday).
So, New York has taken off a day of rest by changing the age-old definition of a day of rest. In New York, when your son pitches on Monday, he “rests” on Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night and Thursday night, and is actually allowed to throw another 105 pitches on Friday.
That is really the equivalent of pitching on three days of rest, not four. Understand that, in 2017, no major league pitcher does this unless their team is in a tight playoff race late in the season or in the playoffs. And when, in the pros, they talk about a pitcher pitching on “short” rest, well, that’s what New York State pitchers will be routinely doing based on this redefining of days of rest to nights of rest.
WHERE DID THE SUGGESTED PITCH COUNTS AND DAYS OF REST COME FROM?
Dr. James Andrews is considered by virtually everybody to be the foremost authority in the world on pitching arms (young and professional) and suggested pitch counts and days of rest for high school pitchers. Indeed, it is Dr. Andrews, his assistant Dr. Glenn Fleisig, Dr. Christopher Ahmad (head team physician of the New York Yankees) and others who combined to recommend pitching guidelines for PitchSmart (mlb.com/pitchsmart). It is these recommendations that were given to the NFHS, among others, and, hopefully, would have been implemented by New York State and others.
BUT THAT’S JUST NOT THE CASE
The Pitch Smart recommendations are as follows (and days of rest is days of rest as everybody knows them; the following day is the first day of rest, not the night that you pitch). For 17-18 year olds (essentially, but not always, the age of high school varsity pitchers), the recommendations are: 1-30 pitches, no days of rest; 31-45 pitches, 1 day of rest, 46-60 pitches, two days of rest; 61-80 pitches, three days of rest; 81 or more pitches, four days of rest.
While virtually all states have not followed these recommendations (nor, apparently, is there any requirement that they must), New York has really created a potential problem for young pitchers by eliminating one day of rest by inventing the “night” of rest.
So, as of now, a varsity pitcher who throws 95 pitches on Tuesday can throw 95 pitches on Friday (that’s three nights but, really, only two days of rest) and then throw 95 more the following Monday. Understand that no major league pitcher throws 285 pitches in seven days except in the rarest of circumstances. These regulations are even worse than the four nights of rest. But even with four nights of rest (which, again, is only three days of rest), a high school varsity pitcher can throw 105 pitches on Tuesday, 105 on Saturday and another 105 on Wednesday. Again, no major league baseball pitcher will throw 315 pitches in nine days except in the rarest of circumstances.
By definition, the “nights” of rest definition is a bad rule.
The CHSAA, realizing the mistake that’s been made by the NYSPHSAA, has recently instituted similar rules but counts the days of rest as the rest of the country counts days of rest; that is, if you pitch the maximum on Monday, you can’t pitch again until Saturday (four days of rest).
BUT, WAIT, THERE’S MORE
For some reason, when playoff time comes around, the NYSPHAA has decided to increase the number of allowable pitches to a maximum of 125. The “Varsity Post Season” rules are: 1-40 pitches, one night of rest (that means you can throw 40 pitches on Tuesday, rest Tuesday night and throw 40 pitches on Wednesday); 41-71 pitches, two nights of rest (that means you can throw 71 pitches on Tuesday and 71 more on Thursday and 71 more on Saturday); 72-102 pitches, three nights of rest (that means you can throw 102 on Tuesday, 102 more on Friday and 102 more on Monday for a grand total of 306 in seven days, which is pretty scary); and 103-125 pitches, four nights of rest, (that means you can throw 125 on Tuesday, 125 more on Saturday and 125 more on Wednesday for another scary total of 375 pitches in nine days).
Again, virtually no major league pitcher will throw that many pitches in a seven or nine-day span.
ARE PITCH COUNTS NECESSARY?
Actually, an interesting question. Most high school coaches are right-minded people looking out for the best interests of their players, especially their pitchers. These pitch count rules, even with a poor definition of days of rest, are better than the prior rule which, believe it or not, put a limit of 12 (yes, 12) innings in one appearance. You only have to go to a few high school games to understand that a 12- inning appearance could easily go into the 140s or higher for a pitch count.
The problem becomes with that rare coach who wants to win at all costs, or the coach who thinks that, since he has a big, strong kid who’s willing to keep going out there, it won’t hurt him this one time, or the coach who loses his mind because, after all, it’s the playoffs.
On balance, it says here that pitch counts are necessary. Indeed, what this really means, especially for small schools, is that a higher percentage of your team has to be able to pitch (at least a few innings) to get through the season, especially later in the season when the rainouts and cancellations have to be made up.
WHAT’S A PARENT TO DO?
While the overwhelming majority of coaches do a good job managing their pitchers to protect their arms, the theory here is that, given the explosion in Tommy John surgeries in the last 15 years or so, something had to be done. Many of these coaches correctly point out that these rules won’t stop a kid from pitching for his high school during the week and then pitching on the weekend for a travel team or at a showcase, where he will throw as hard as he can (to impress college coaches or major league scouts).
While there is, at times, some overlap between the high school season and other baseball commitments, this is where the intelligent parent(s) has to step in and protect their son. When your child is an excellent young pitcher, many people will try to take advantage of that. While there are many excellent travel coaches, you probably should not let your child pitch on two teams at once; if you do, then it is up to you to regulate his pitch count.
Travel coaches are also in the business of winning. The best approach, in this writer’s opinion, is to avoid pitching for multiple teams at the same time. If your son does, keep his pitch count, not per team, but for your son as an individual. If he has the talent to go to a showcase, talk with one or both coaches to set up a proper rest period both before and after the showcase. Or, don’t go to a showcase at all (which would be tough under today’s system).
I would strongly suggest that you follow the guidelines for pitches AND days of rest at mlb.com/pitchsmart/pitching-guidelines. These have recommendations for all ages. If you can adhere to these recommendations (or, at least, get close to them), this will give your son a better chance (no guarantees) that he can avoid the epidemic of arm injuries that is spreading across the country now.
ONE ADDITIONAL ISSUE
Who’s going to count the pitches? The new rule states that each team keeps the pitch count, checks with the other and, if there’s a discrepancy, the home team’s count rules.
Uh-oh! That could be a problem if the count goes up a pitch or two (or three) per inning against the visiting team’s star pitcher. Could that happen? Well, in the overwhelming majority of situations, it won’t. But, mistakes are made and, on (rare) occasions, someone may try to get the upper hand.
Also, for violation of this rule, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Apparently, games can (and will?) be forfeited if pitch count mistakes are made. That raises a number of issues: what if it was an honest mistake? How do you prove it (absent a video of the game, which may now occur more)? Isn’t that too big of a penalty?
The PSAL rule is that the coach is suspended for one game on the first violation. After that, more serious punishment, including forfeiture of the game, is considered. Indeed, the NYSPHSAA originally had a one-game suspension for the coach for the first offense and a two-game suspension and forfeiture for the second offense.
But the final rule states forfeiture for the first offense. The PSAL rule seems more reasonable.
While well-meaning, the new rules for pitch counts, days of rest and penalties for mistakes can (and will) lead to issues. While an improvement on the past innings-limit rules (12 innings in one appearance and no more than 18 innings in a six-day period), they have to be carefully monitored and looked at during the season.
Obviously, that definition of rest should be changed immediately and the pitch counters have to be looked at carefully (and improved).
And, remember, parents, it’s up to YOU, more than anyone (including right-minded coaches), to protect your son.
By the way…..the pitch count rules for JV/FR: 1-30 pitches, one night of rest; 31-45 pitches, two nights of rest; 46-75 pitches, three nights of rest; 76-85 pitches, four nights of rest*
Pitch count rules for Modified: 1-20 pitches, one night of rest; 21-40 pitches, two nights of rest; 41-60 pitches, three nights of rest; 61-75 pitches, four nights of rest*
*Remember, the first night of rest is the night that you pitched. See main article for further explanation
Editor’s Note: In addition to being a top attorney and sports parenting expert, Steve was a standout Division I baseball player at New York University.
© COPYRIGHT 2017 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED